Five assaults were made on prison officers within three days at a West Midlands jail, it was claimed today.
Concerns have been raised that attacks by prisoners against staff are going unpunished at Featherstone Prison, near Wolverhampton, as senior staff are said to be facing a vote of no confidence.
Allegations sent to the Express & Star reveal serious concerns over the prison and include claims of assaults on officers and ‘unsafe’ staffing levels. They also suggest that a synthetic cannabis called Black Mamba is getting smuggled in to the prison.
The Prison Service has denied that prisoners are not being reported to police and stressed Featherstone was ‘safe’ and ‘very effective’.
Labour’s shadow justice minister Sadiq Khan said: “It’s unacceptable that prison officers should be exposed to violence in the workplace.”
Featherstone was said to have been ‘flooded’ with Black Mamba.
The jail is said to house offenders at low risk of escape, but an email passed to the Express & Star reveals concerns of ‘violent acts against staff’ and even claims that one officer was hit around the face with a broom handle.
South Staffordshire MP Gavin Williamson, whose constituency includes the 687-prisoner jail, has asked questions in Parliament following concerns raised with him by a constituent.
HM Prison Service has stressed that Featherstone is safe and exceeds its targets for the number of staff trained to use force when necessary.
But sources who have contacted the Express & Star say staff are to stage a vote of no confidence in management and that prisoners are able to get hold of Black Mamba, which drug dogs have not been trained to detect.
HMP Featherstone is next door to the new £150 million, privately-run HMP Oakwood, which has also been beset with various problems, including prisoners holding a nine-hour stand-off with guards in January.
Allegations in the email about Featherstone claim that five staff were assaulted or injured within three days – one assault involving an officer hit in the face with a broom handle.
It also alleges:
- Staff are being pressured to work with ‘unsafe’ low staffing levels
- A vote of confidence in the management is being arranged
- Violent acts are handled ‘weakly’ by management
- An officer was punched to the ground and kicked. The prisoner received a 28-day sentence for common assault but this was served alongside his existing term.
It was also claimed that the senior management team was withholding reports of incidents, a claim refuted utterly by the Prison Service.
A separate hand-written letter claims prisoners have set fires and that there are not enough staff.
The letter reads: “In light of all the bad Press at HMP Oakwood, the following things have gone unreported in the last three weeks at HMP Featherstone next door:
“Four prison officers seriously assaulted, prisoners setting fire within the prison, prison unlocked with not enough staff, no faith in management team and a possible vote of no confidence in the Governor to follow.”
Mr Williamson declined to reveal details of incidents reported to him by his constituent, citing confidentiality reasons.
But he said: “An assault that takes place in a prison is just as much breaking the law as one outside the prison walls.
“The prison has to give reassurances that it is functioning properly and supporting its staff.
“I am asking questions of the Ministry of Justice concerning the number of incidents of assault and what action is being taken to ensure it is effectively investigated and that perpetrators are appropriately punished.”
Steve Gillan, general secretary of the POA, formerly the Prison Officers Association, said: “For any assault on a prison officer there should be police involvement and a prosecution.
“It is beyond belief and totally unacceptable for the culprits of brutal attacks on officers to get away with it. The Prison Service is overcrowded, underfunded with low staffing levels. It is a recipe for disaster and the warning signs are there at HMP Featherstone for all to see.”
The prison has 23 staff who have completed advanced training in use of force, above its target. And the government recently expanded powers to test prisoners for ‘non-controlled’ drugs.
A Prison Service spokesman said: “Independent prison inspectors recently described HMP Featherstone as a ‘very effective’ prison and praised the relationships between staff and prisoners. They also commended the support provided to offenders with drug and alcohol problems.
“The safety and security of our staff is of paramount importance. Anyone who is violent towards them can expect to face severe consequences with serious incidents referred to the police for prosecution. Any suggestion that the prison would not report incidents is utterly false.
“Staffing levels at the prison remain appropriate to run a safe and efficient prison.”